Native Hostel has been the name on nearly everyone’s tongue since SXSW 2018, when the new venue hosted a series of events that showcased just how relevant the east side of I-35 can be to Austin’s downtown culture.
A hostel in the strongest sense of the word, the accommodations are affordable thanks to their communal nature, but manage to not sacrifice the independent spirit of the Live Music Capital of the World. Such fine-tuning naturally spills over into the adjoining Native Bar & Kitchen, where high tables, a warm-toned bar, and a luxurious, lived-in feel greet every diner. If we consume as much with the eyes as with the appetite, then the décor of Native Hostel’s eatery is an amuse-bouche of the highest order. In keeping with the casual atmosphere, food and drink service is self-serve, allowing for an unencumbered flow, where patrons can focus on their present company and conversations, only interrupted by a pause to order at their leisure.
The everyday menu puts a spotlight on distinctly Asian flavors and dishes with a distinctively French flair. “The atmosphere is so different from any kind of traditional restaurant,” explains chef Gabe Hernandez. “It keeps you pushing the envelope.” But, it is in their brunch menu where the kitchen abandons the envelope, nearly completely. The Native Style Bahn Mi makes an encore appearance from the everyday menu, but the real showstoppers come out to play throughout the rest of their offerings. The Peach French Toast, a star of the menu, avoids cloying sweetness by favoring fresh peach flavors, incorporating a little chile to the accompanying compote, all while using an in-house challah as the airy and light foundation. The result is the definition of balance, mixing sweetness and complex flavors to challenge one’s palate, rather than a vehicle for syrup.
The Asian-influenced flavors find a home through subtle hints like the apple kimchi on the Crab Cake Benedict. But, it is with the Chilaquiles that Native Bar & Kitchen truly remembers where it calls home. If you opt for the enchilada sauce and the pulled chicken thigh, the resulting dish would be right at home in a majority of Austin’s vaunted Tex-Mex offerings. Lightness is the order of the late summer brunch menu, and even this Tex-Mex option resonates with that theme.
It would, of course, be remiss to visit any brunch spot in the city without considering what the beverage options might be. Certainly, there are a scandalous number of options in town to “Rosé all day,” but Native opts instead for a very refined and profoundly impressive cocktail menu for their brunch. The Bunk Bed option notwithstanding (a simple order of a shot of bourbon and a Lone Star), their cocktail menu offers some of the most subtle diamonds to be found amongst Austin’s impressive cocktail culture.
The Hibiscus Bergamot Gin Cocktail fuses floral tea with botanical gin and the piquant citrus of bergamot, while the Cucumber Martini uses vodka, citrus and orange liqueur to transform a twilight standard into an afternoon highlight. And, while these takes on cocktail experimentation perform extraordinarily well, it’s in the added touches to traditionally Texan beverages that the real magic occurs. Grapefruit bitters deliver a brightness to the Native Margarita that is impossible to ignore, while the sea salt lime foam – which arrives atop the Mez-Can Martini – is the ingredient that all Texas brunch drinks are missing.
In a town riddled with dining options and critical of any misstep – particularly where brunch is concerned – Native Bar & Kitchen fits perfectly. From the door to the impeccable coffee bar and from the lounge to the dining area, every element of Native Hostel feels like it belongs here in Austin, and with all that Native Bar & Kitchen offers, it all feels like home.
Post Script: To sample some of the newest fusions, where Native Bar & Kitchen has explored still further reaches of Asian and Tex-Mex harmony, they now offer a regular happy hour that features specials on the aforementioned Hibiscus Bergamot Gin Cocktail, as well as a new application of the sea salt and lime foam in their Native Foam Mule. Additionally, they’ve crafted a Sambal Barbacoa Tostada we cannot wait to sample, as well as a Baby Bahn Mi for snack appetites. At $5 per snack and $8 per cocktail, Native Bar & Kitchen is looking to make your wait for traffic to diminish an opportunity to rejoice. Happy Hour is all day on Monday, and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. We’ll likely see you there!
Cover photo Julia Keim